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A Musical Holiday

Your guide to Nutcrackers, Messiahs, and Christmas Pie

There are many pleasures associated with the holiday season, and one of them is the annual opportunity to see and hear a wide variety of Christmas music performed by favorite artists. Here’s a roundup of highlights from some of the most popular events, in more or less chronological order:

Amahl and the Night Visitors

The Nickel City Opera presents four performances of Giancarlo Menotti’s holiday favorite, Amahl and the Night Visitors, on Friday, November 26 and Saturday, November 27, at 3pm and 7pm at the Riviera Theatre on Webster Street in North Tonawanda. The one-act Amahl and the Night Visitors was the first opera specifically composed for television and the debuted on December 24, 1951. Menotti got his inspiration from The Adoration of the Magi by Bosch, a painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the New York Times titled its review of the performance “Three Kings in 50 Minutes.” Amahl may well be the most frequently performed opera in history, being staged throughout the world by countless amateur and professional opera companies every Christmas. The costumed, fully staged production features well-known area vocalists, including soprano Mary Kay Atlas in the role of the Mother, and it will be accompanied by Ivan Docenko on the Wurlitzer Organ. Tickets are $10-$25, For more information, call 692-2413 or visit

Two Nutcrackers

On Saturday, November 27 at 7pm and Sunday, November 28 at 2pm, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra will collaborate for the second year with the Neglia Ballet Artists in presenting Tchaikovsky’s classic holiday ballet The Nutcracker at Shea’s Performing Arts Center. Sergio Neglia, artistic director of Neglia Ballet Artists, along with executive director Heidi Halt Neglia, conceived and choreographed this traditional production of the work. What makes this Nutcracker very special is that it is the only local production hat features live musical accompaniment by the BPO, under the baton of Matthew Kraemer.

Alexandra Kochis, principal dancer of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, will dance both the roles of the grown-up Marie and the Sugar Plum Fairy. Christopher Budzynski, also a principal dancer from the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, will perform the role of the Cavalier. Adelaide Clauss will reprise her role as the young Marie, for which she was praised last year by Dance Magazine critic Steve Sucato. Along with the corps de ballet, soloists, and principal professional ballet dancers, the children’s roles will be filled by students of the Neglia Conservatory of Ballet and other local dancers. Neglia Ballet has developed a collaborative partnership with the UB Center for the Performing Arts and the UB Department of Theatre and Dance to produce the sets and costumes for this new production. The production will premier lavish sets designed by UB professor Lynne Koscielniak and more than 100 costumes designed by Donna Massimo, costume shop manager for the department. Vincent O’Neill, artistic director of the Irish Classical Theater, again plays the pivotal role of Herr Drosselmeyer, while puppetry wizard Michele Costa, who will briefly appear onstage in the puppet theater scene with Herr Drosselmeyer, also created various masks, puppets, and costumes, including that of the soldier’s horses. All other items were built within the creative departments at the UB Center for the Arts. Tickets are $32.50-$72.50 at

The Main Stage Theatre of the UB Center for the Arts will be the site for the 15th anniversary performance of the American Academy of Ballet’s version of The Nutcracker on Saturday, December 4 at 1pm and 7pm, and Sunday December 5 at 1pm. This version of the holiday classic, which is performed to a recorded soundtrack, is narrated by the grandfather at the Christmas Eve celebration at Clara’s home, with special flying effects and a hot air balloon as the prince and Clara visit exotic countries as well as a Victorian circus. A favorite of audiences is their visit “Under the Sea,” where lobsters, turtles, mermaids, and sea urchins charm and delight. Daniel Ulbricht, principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, dances the role of the Cavalier, and Misa Kuranaga, a principal dancer with the Boston Ballet, is his Sugar Plum Fairy. More than 200 area ballet students will perform the children’s roles. Tickets are $21.50-$26.50 at or

Freudig Singers serve a slice of “Christmas Pie”

The Freudig Singers will celebrate the 11th anniversary of a unique Buffalo tradition this December. For the past decade, the Freudig Singers have offered a pair of concerts in area churches, featuring some of the most rarely performed gems in the Christmas music reparatory. Besides the Christmas carols on the menu, the group has also established the tradition of dishing out delicious post-concert pie to every concertgoer. The first serving of “Christmas Pie,” under the baton of the Freudig Singers artistic director Roland Martin, will be on Friday December 3 at 7:30pm at St. John’s Grace Episcopal Church on Colonial Circle in Buffalo. A second helping of “Christmas Pie” will be served on Sunday, December 5 at 4pm, at the Orchard Park Presbyterian Church (4369 South Buffalo Street). Tickets are $12 before the show ($10 for seniors and students) and $15 on the night of the show ($13 for seniors and students), pie included. For more information, call 667-7088 or visit Pre-sale reservations are highly recommended as the tickets usually sell, well, like hotcakes.

The Messiah with the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus

For many classical music lovers, Christmas is not Christmas without a performance of Handel’s Messiah, one of the all-time most popular choral works, and this year the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus presents a pair of opportunities to hear it. On Monday, November 29 at 7:30pm, pre-registered audience members can sing along with the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus at St. Stephan’s Church (2100 Baseline Road, Grand Island). BPC music director Doreen Rao “will lead a lively and informative rehearsal-style Messiah, teaching and conducting Messiah choruses with solo arias and continuo.” Bring a copy of the Messiah if you intend to sing, or reserve a copy for $15. To register, call 833-6642 or email A free-will offering will be accepted at the door, along with a non-perishable food offering for the Grand Island Neighbors’ Foundation.

On Sunday, December 5, at 7:30pm, Rao will conduct the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and the Buffalo Philharmonic Chamber Players, along with soloists Claire de Sévigné, Natalia Kojanova, Andrew Haji, and Andrew Love, in a performance of the Messiah at Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna.

Although the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus often performs with the BPO, it is an entirely separate, self-supporting organization, and is one of the many cultural organizations that will lose all public funding under the proposed new Erie County budget for 2011. Tickets are $20. Call 833-6642 or 885-5000 or visit for more information.

The Messiah at St. Paul’s Cathedral

On Friday, December 10, at 7:30pm, the Friends of Music at St. Paul’s Cathedral (128 Pearl Street) in Buffalo presents the Messiah featuring the St. Paul’s Cathedral Choirs with orchestra and soloists. Tickets are $20 presale, $25 at the door. Call 855-0900, ext. 242 or visit for more information.

BPO Holiday Pops

Concert-goers will have the chance to enjoy the always popular BPO Holiday Pops program at Kleinhans Music Hall on four separate occasions this Christmas season: twice on Friday, December 11, at 10:30am and 8pm; once on Saturday, December 11, at 8pm; and also on Sunday, December 12, at 2:30pm. Matthew Kraemer, Associate Conductor of the BPO, will lead the orchestra and the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus. For the first time ever, the Shaw Festival Theatre Ensemble, from Niagara-on-the-Lake, makes an appearance on a BPO program; it will be featured in such favorites as Fred Loesser’s “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and Meredith Willson’s “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” The BPO Chorus will be featured in “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas,” from the movie Home Alone, and the suite from the perennial favorite, It’s a Wonderful Life.

Three Wishes

On Saturday, December 18 at 2:30pm, the Main Stage Theatre of the UB Center for the Arts presents a performance of Three Wishes. Acrobats and ballet dancers from the Greater Buffalo Youth Ballet, under the direction of Elizabeth DiStasio-Wadde, will tell the story of how Chandu the wizard helps a little girl discover the joy of giving, as well as perform excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.

Tickets are $21.50 at

BPO M&T Classics Series

On Saturday, December 18 at 8pm, local concert-goers will have their only chance to hear JoAnn Falletta conduct this holiday season, when she returns to the podium at Kleinhans in a concert that includes some of the more rarely played items in the Christmas classical repertoire, as well as old favorites, such as Corelli’s Christmas Concerto. The playlist includes rarities such as the Polonaise from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Christmas Eve as well as the Polonaise from Honegger’s Christmas Eve, along with more familiar works, like Ralph Vaughan William’s Fantasia on Greensleeves, and Lee Norris’ “Christmas Carol Sing-A-Long.”

Friends of Vienna present “The Simple Joys of Christmas”

On Sunday, December 12 at 3:30pm, the Friends of Vienna presents the Rockwell Brass Quintet, artists in residence at Buffalo State College, in a program entitled “The Simple Joys of Christmas” at the Unity Church (1243 Delaware Avenue). Founded in 2001, the Rockwell Brass Quintet consists of G. Nathan Barnes, trumpet; Lee Brusino, French horn; Rick Fleming, trombone; James Francisco, trumpet; and Fred Lenz, tuba. The quintet has performed at venues throughout Western New York, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Burchfield Penney Arts Center, and the Mary Seaton Room at Kleinhans. The quintet can also be heard in area churches for services, events, and ceremonies.

Their program of carols and songs will range from the traditional (“Angels We Have Heard on High” and Fantasy on an Ancient French Carol) to contemporary favorites like “Let It Snow.” As is traditional for Friends of Vienna events, a meet-the-artists reception with coffee and cookies will follow the event. As part of a community outreach program established last year by the Friends of Vienna artistic director Mary Kay Atlas, the organization will also sponsor a concert by the Rockwell Brass Quintet at a Buffalo Public School on December 15. Tickets are $8, $6 for students, $1 for children under the age of 12. For more information, visit

BPO Family Series

On Sunday, December 19, at 2:30pm, associate conductor Matthew Kraemer will celebrate “A Visit From St. Nick,” with a Christmas program geared towards younger listeners, that will feature a special appearance by Santa Claus himself, with musical selections that include Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, as well as “The Chipmunk Song” and “You’re A Mean One Mr. Grinch,” sung by bass Marc Webster.

Tickets for BPO Holiday Pops and Classical Christmas concerts start at just $30. For “A Visit with St. Nick,” kid’s tickets are $8 and adult’s tickets $12. Call 885-5000 or visit

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